Acknowledging Your Fear Rather Than Pushing It Away

Excerpts from "Meredith Monk's Voice," a conversation with Krista Tippett, On Being, February 16, 2012:

Krista Tippett: I always see you also insisting that music is about waking up. I mean, I don't know if those two things have to be in tension, but I sense that, if you had to choose between transcendence and waking up and being right there in that moment, you would choose the latter. Just saying, I mean, live performance is as direct and awake and experience one hopes as anything we do.

Meredith Monk: That's also, again, so interesting because actually I don't see those two things as opposites. I actually think that, when you are that present and you are that awake and the audience actually experiences themselves, you know, the deepest part of themselves, then the whole situation becomes transcendent because we're not — the way we live our lives is not necessarily with that level of presence.

And also certainly in this society, we're taught to actually be distracted and diverted all the time from feeling, in a sense, you could say the pain — the good pain, you know, the pain as in openheartedness and rawness of the moment, the pain as well as the pleasure, everything in one in that moment.

...

Meredith Monk: Your practice is very simple, but it's very much about how are you in the world? You know, how do you look at the person that's counting change for you in the grocery store or how do you deal with a person that you don't get along with well? How are you waking up all the time to see what the moment is? How are you on the subway? How are you when something really bad happens to you? You know, just how do you become a citizen in this world and perpetuate nonviolence and, you know, there are many, many aspects to it.

And one of them is about and fear and fearlessness. And it's about acknowledging your fear rather than pushing it away because a part of the violence comes from not even acknowledging that you're afraid. It's actually that you're afraid of the fear.

And then what happens, that gets pushed down and then that gets transformed into anger or violence. I mean, so much of the world that we're living in now, you know, what's going on and the way that people are manipulated or these wars or violent situations come from basic fear and terror, not in terms of terrorism, but terror, human terror. So I started thinking about that and then I've started working on a song that's called "Scared Song."

meredith monk - scared song from jean&jeano on Vimeo.

I've been noticing that the older that I get, the simpler the work gets in a way. I mean, in a way it's more refining it from something very complex to something very simple. One of the beauties of being an artist is that it is timeless. You know, the funny thing is, it doesn't get any easier. I mean, you would think that I've been working for so many years that, oh, I can make a piece so easily, but I think what I do is I put myself through the same process of going to zero every time and, you know, this kind of risky situation, so sometimes I think why do I do this and why isn't it easier now after all these years?

But I actually think that that's what does keep you very young because you're always questioning. You know, I think that making art is actually about questions and that you never take anything for granted and you're in this slightly dangerous situation, which I think is really good. Then I always say that I'm scared to death.

We learn in Buddhist practices to tolerate the unknown, because that's reality. The reality is that we don't know anything, and we really don't know what's going to happen in the next moment. So you learn to tolerate that discomfort of not knowing and fear. I mean, every time, I'm just terrified. I'm actually terrified. I realize this even now working on this piece.

When I perform, I'm still nervous, which I think is a good sign because it means that you still have passion for what you're doing. But every time I make something new, it's never like, oh, this is going to be so easy. No, it's always this terror and then I sit with that for a while and then I say to myself, "Step by step," and then I just start working and it's a step-by-step kind of process. And then, at a certain point, I realize I'm so interested in this. Then once that interest comes in or curiosity comes in, then the fear goes away. So it's very interesting that curiosity is a great antidote to fear.